While the critical reception for Maleficent has been slightly less than a fairy tale, most reviewers agree that Angelina Jolie is wicked good as the titular witch. Says Time’s Richard Corliss, “She is the visual, aural and behavioral embodiment of an otherworldly goddess capable of anything, from poisonous curses to surrogate-mother love.” From the moment the superstar was announced for the role it was decreed perfect casting: Jolie has always exuded a cool, dangerous vibe. Even though she is now a dedicated humanitarian and mother figure, you still get the sense that she could arch an eyebrow and turn a paparazzo into a newt.
So she should be able to vanish into this role, especially under the horns and robes. And she mostly does — until one scene, in which she shares the screen with her now five-year-old daughter, Vivienne, who plays the young Aurora. Suddenly, distractingly, I felt like I was no longer watching a dark children’s classic: I was watching one of the most famous celebrities in the world in a home movie.
In the scene, the little girl innocently approaches the witch in a forest while her three airheaded fairy godmothers aren’t looking. Vivienne chirps, “Up, up,” to which Jolie picks up her daughter, feigning at the cute blond-haired girl. Vivienne plays with Jolie’s snakeskin horns as Maleficent softens toward the girl she so dreadfully cursed. Both mother and daughter are in line with their characters in this moment, and it’s an adorable scene, but it appealed to me not because of the film story at that moment, but because it played to the public’s voyeuristic fascination with this famous family. I didn’t think, “Run, Aurora!”, I thought, “This must be how they are at home with Brad and the gang. Is the rest of the fam just out of frame? Geez, Vivienne looks just like her parents — like an exact 50/50 mutation. Oh my, she has lines! She talks! I’m hearing her talk for the first time ever!”
The actress told Entertainment Weekly that the only reason she cast Vivienne is because every other tot actor was too terrified to be able to act against her in costume. And that may well be true. However, Jolie has a difficult enough task vanishing into character as it is: She hasn’t been in a film since 2010’s The Tourist (which not that many people saw), and so our constant exposure to her is as a celebrity icon — one whose most dissected pictures are those with her enormous brood. So while the cinematic moment gives a jolt, it’s too bad that it’s for the wrong reasons, and that it distracted from me enjoying watching her do what made her famous in the first place: act.
Photo credit: Disney